A First-timer's Guide to GALA
I'm calling this a first-timer's guide, but truth be told this was far from my first rodeo, conference-wise. As a practicing conference interpreter, I have in the past found myself haunting the booths and ballrooms of almost 200 conferences a year, mingling with speakers and schmoozers from every industry conceivable: mining, semiconductors, healthcare, Big Dairy, you name it.
However the 2017 GALA Conference was, ironically, my first time attending a language services conference — and my first time attending a trade show not as an interpreter, but as an attendee proper on behalf of Cadence, a California-based LSP specializing in remote simultaneous interpretation.
So it was that I came to Amsterdam at once world-weary and dewey-eyed, a virgin and veteran both, with an open mind and a critical eye and a keen desire to make the most of the experience. And what an experience it was! Dear reader, those three days were nothing short of unforgettable — a unique and transformative celebration of professional congeniality, expansive thought-leadership, valuable market insight, deep network-enrichment, collaborative thinking, and stroopwaffel.
As a “fresh debutanté” on the GALA scene, it is an honor to share below a short reflection on that experience and a humble tribute to the people and programming that made it so special.
An Industry with Open Arms
From the moment I arrived at the registration desk at the lovely Hotel Okura, I felt immediately the warmth and welcome of the conference organizers - by the time I was “badged & bagged,” I'd been thoroughly infected by the enthusiasm, professionalism, and genuine good cheer of the volunteers and staff.
That sense of inclusive warmth was extended even deeper at the opening orientation and ice-breaker for first-time attendees, where the 75 or so newbies were welcomed personally and sincerely by the GALA leadership. (GALA told me that about 54% of delegates were first-timers!) Jesper Sandberg, Tea Dietterich, Laura Brandon, George Zhao, Joël Sigling, Renato Beninatto, and other members of the conference “old guard” went out of their way to make us all feel at ease and among friends, and impressed upon us the opportunities and resources that the conference had to offer while sharing best practices on how to get the most value from our time together.
Over the course of the opening reception and the 2.5 days that followed, I would time and again be struck by the sense of belonging, friendship, and collegial respect that permeated the very atmosphere in which we worked. The positivity was nearly palpable — all in all, I left with an impression that GALA represents not merely an “industry,” but rather a “community” in the truest sense of the word.
Knowledge: Not a Fount but a Feast
If gluttony is — as the orthodoxy claims — a deadly sin, then I fear GALA may be the death of us yet for the sheer and indulgent excess of knowledge, insight, and intelligence that is shared so freely and with such abandon amongst its members.
Thimon de Jong's excellent opening keynote on the future of human behavior and its impacts on global business set the tone for the conference with its expansive thoughtfulness and humor.
As a professional interpreter myself, I was naturally drawn to the think! Interpreting track that was expertly curated by Barry Olsen and Katharine Allen of InterpretAmerica with supported from Kristin Quinlan's Certified Language Solutions. The program was kicked off with an excellent overview of innovation in the interpreting sphere by Ewandro Magalhaes; Hélène Pielmeier shared market data and emerging trends in interpretation technology (with remote simultaneous interpretation provided by Cadence and Interprefy); and Dieter Runge offered a deep-dive into the future of interpretation delivery platforms (IDP) and and management systems (IMS).
It's a widely accepted trope that small and medium LSPs often excel in technical capabilities but struggle with basic commercial salesmanship — apart from the think! Interpreting track, I also made a point of attending as many sessions as possible under the theme “Sales and Marketing Strategies for LSCs”.
Steve Chu and Ioannis Kassios' recommendations for crafting a successful pitch, Inge Boonen's session on sales organization structure, and Anne-Marie Colliander Lind and Renato Beninatto's presentation on “The Immutable Laws of Selling Language Services” all highlighted key learnings and best practices for moving product in our industry.
Many many other speakers dazzled and delighted — in fact, there were so many interesting talks scheduled in parallel, and so many interesting conversations taking place on the sidelines, that I felt myself in a near-constant state of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) from start to finish. To take the edge off, Cadence and InterpretAmerica co-hosted a small nightcap, drink&think! Interpreting, a chance to chat more intimately with our interpreting peers away from the hustle and bustle of the conference itself.
Assessing ROI : Relationships, Opportunities, and Intelligence
Look, our company is a start-up. A fast growing start-up with a lot of strong support, but a start-up nonetheless; we don't have a lot of idle resources lying around. Spending several days and several thousand dollars to attend a conference is a big deal for our company, and we need to justify that investment with real returns. For Cadence, we assessed the ROI on this conference along three lines:
Relationships — the quality of attendance at this conference was exceptional. The chance to build a relationship face-to-face with industry peers, clients, brokers, and key influencers was truly invaluable: in three days we developed senior-level links to partners that we would have spent weeks or months pursuing through iterative emails and phone calls.
Opportunities - by design, this conference is more relational than commercial, but I'm not going to lie — we talked a lot of business at GALA. There are new clients in our pipeline this week that wouldn't be there if we'd stayed at home. We expect new business to exceed conference expenses by a very large margin and on a very short timeline.
Intelligence - the combination of conference thought-leadership and open peer-sharing offered a unique vantage point from which to survey the industry landscape and inform business strategy moving forward. In the days since the conference, I've been shared key insights, learnings, and take-aways with the rest of our team, effectively spreading the value of GALA attendance across our entire organization.
First, but not Last
Based on the quality of community, the depth of learning, and the steeply positive ROI, I'm recommending to our team that we make attending the annual GALA conference a priority in our industry outreach efforts — and, equally importantly — to actively engage with the community year-round through participation in and contribution to GALA's various online- and off-line resources and events.
2017 was the first year for Cadence at GALA — but I am very confident that it will not be the last.
I look forward to seeing all of you — veterans and virgins alike — at next year's conference, and hope to collaborate frequently and productively with all our partners and peers in the meantime!